The Grateful Letter

Descriptive Praise in Action

 

At The Parent Practice we have many parents who never cease to amaze us with simple ideas that have a long-reaching, positive impact on the relationship they have with their children.

One Mum recently emailed us with a grateful letter that she intended to include with her soon-to-be 8 year old’s birthday card.  This wasn’t just any old letter.  This was a heartfelt testament (full of descriptive praise) to the year her son had just completed: the milestones he achieved; the new skills he learned; his new friendships; the frustrations and the overcoming of those frustrations; the enhanced relationships with his brothers; even his height and shoe size at the beginning of the year.  Some of us  have kept baby books where we keep track of all the firsts – teeth, steps and words – but we usually stop by the time our children start school if not before.  It is a wonderful idea to continue to keep a record and celebration of their lives.

This Mum is beautifully participative in her son’s life – not overbearing – but present in a way in which she can observe and note down (her son is oblivious until he receives the card) things that may at first seem mundane, but actually are important moments in the life of a child.  Here’s an excerpt:

We are grateful that you are growing so independent

in the mornings… always dressed and downstairs by

7am, getting your own breakfast and setting the table

for everyone else. For the pride you take in doing up

your new school tie, and the way you make your own

bed every day without reminders. For accepting the

new ‘no Wii on a school day’ rule with good grace… but

playing it like a madman at the weekends.

 

We are grateful for your strong will … for never backing down

which is both infuriating and admirable. For your desire to

win and be the best, and how mad it makes you when you

lose.  For finding it impossible to say sorry out loud, but then

spontaneously writing a beautiful and sincere letter of apology.

For trying so hard to control your anger and getting frustrated

when it is sometimes the hardest thing to do.


He must start his birthday each year on such a high!  This particular year he will be reminded not just that he is deeply loved, but also that he is independent, cooperative, contributing, proud, disciplined, determined and sincere – all qualities that we hope to instill in our children.  We love the honesty of the letter: the Mum isn’t wearing rose-coloured glasses, but rather she takes aspects of her child’s behaviour that could infuriate her, and sees them in a positive and caring way – enabling her son to know that he is appreciated for who he is.  We imagine that her son is left knowing that being determined, for example, can be a good quality!

We hope that reading this letter doesn’t leave you feeling inadequate or beaten at the competitive game parenting can be but instead inspires you to create something similar for your child.  It would be wonderful for them as teenagers and adults to be able to re-read an accurate record of their lives. We like the idea of excerpts being read out (with laughter and tears) one day at a 21st or wedding reception!

So, how do we do it?  The Mum who sent us her letter has it down to an art!  She jots down notes on the ‘notes’ app on her iPhone and pulls them all together at the end of the year.  The writing down seems like it will be the easy part!  The more challenging aspect will be taking the time to participate, observe, and truly connect with your children as they grow up.  Although it will take time we suspect it will be time you will enjoy and will help you see your child in a truly positive light.

 

20/10/2011   No Comments

Rioting British youths failed by their own parents? It takes a village…

Britons and people across the world have been mesmerised by the riots that took place recently in London and other cities and have been scrabbling for some sort of explanation for what went on, what motivated the rioters and, it seemed to me, searching for someone to blame. I was sorry to see that one of the knee jerk reactions as we try to make sense of this frightening occurrence in our own neighbourhoods was a spate of parent bashing and blaming.

There have been as many theories about the causes of the violence as there were people who took part in it. But there is no one explanation that has convinced me as applying to all who took part. The causes attributed seem to depend on who are identified as the perpetrators. If the rioters were unemployed, uneducated, fatherless, estate-living, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds then commentators have claimed that it is the socio economic climate in which we live currently that has given rise to this spate of violence. But many of the looters were not from this demographic but were middle class, older people in employment. There were teachers, dental nurses and ballerinas who took part. Many of these people were female, educated and in employment. Some of the young were living in stable homes with two caring parents. Many of us will have heard interviews with ‘hoodies’ who claim to have joined in for the fun of it and because they could get away with it.

Whatever the disparate socio economic and ethnic backgrounds of the people taking part in the rioting and looting maybe one thing that unites them is a sense of powerlessness in their lives that compels them to seize control in this way. One youth was quoted as saying “We wanted to show the police we could do what we wanted.” The other uniting feature, as many commentators have mentioned, is the moral vacuum we have witnessed. Whatever the circumstances of their lives, whatever hardships they may be enduring, whatever frustrations or privations, these don’t justify taking the action they did, causing the damage they did, taking the lives they did. So what is missing? Some of the people taking part seemed to just get caught up in the atmosphere of the mob without any predetermined idea of causing violence or stealing. But why did they give way to the thrust of the crowd? Where is the value system that tells a person when to stop and decide not to join the throng? Why wasn’t there an overriding compulsion that made them put the brakes on and think about how their actions impacted on others? How do you get those values? Clearly from one’s up-bringing. Allison Pearson has written in the Telegraph, “Our young people need adults to stop abdicating authority.”

While it is true that we need parents to behave like adults and to be in charge there are wide differences of opinion about what this means. Pearson quoted her neighbour as saying “They need a smacked bottom and to be sent to bed early”. Generally when people say “what that child needs is some discipline” they mean this kind of punitive approach but this is pendulum thinking where we assume that the alternative to this kind of flagrant permissiveness is clamping down hard with punishment. And if we conclude that there are social factors at work here which facilitated the recent lawlessness then we will not be effective in just bringing down sanctions without addressing those social factors.

In any case there is a more effective middle ground involving parents setting and upholding boundaries, taking an interest in and being responsible for their children and being willing to be the parent not the friend.  My view is that there is a crisis of parenting when the adults are not in charge, when they don’t know where a 12 year old is, when they have not been able to pass on values about respect for others, when they have not taught compassion and tolerance, when the young people don’t have the communication skills necessary to get what they need without violence, when they don’t have a proper education.

Not all the young people who took part in the violence have been brought up badly. Some of them may have got caught up in the moment and displayed a real lack of judgment in doing so and they need to be shown that there are consequences for that behaviour. Some parents are bravely doing just that. Chelsea Ives, 18 year old and promising athlete, took part in the rioting and was seen on television by her parents who took the courageous step of turning her into the police. And other parents have taken similar steps to teach their children responsibility for their actions.

But where there has been a failure to educate young people in good values and responsibility I think we have to be careful where we lay the blame for that. It is too easy to say what parents should be doing, especially when we’re pointing the finger at another set of parents, not ourselves. We need to take responsibility as a community for what has happened and think holistically about how we can support parents to bring up the next generation better. However difficult I think we need to try to get to the why’s of what happened so we can take effective action rather than just shooting in the dark like tough punishment and bringing in the army. And we need more data before we can analyse accurately what happened. Just as when we’re disciplining our kids at home we need to take time to understand why they did the thing we didn’t want them to do so that we can respond effectively.

The phrase ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ hasn’t had much application in modern Britain but it needs to now. If one good thing comes out of this maybe it will be that in the spirit of the cleaning up that took place after the riots, that sense of taking back control of our communities, we look out for our neighbours more and help each other to bring up good kids. That might be in direct ways by offering to look after a neighbour’s child to give them a break, or being a male ‘uncle’ figure in the life of a fatherless child, or it might be having the courage to tell a teen to take their feet off the seat on the bus. Or maybe our actions will be to lobby government in this time of austerity measures to not make cuts in the vital area of providing parenting support so that parents have the tools to be able to get their kids to school, get them off the streets, give them the values they want to pass on and teach them respect. Nothing will change if we just mutter about the state of moral collapse in our society and point the finger of blame at parents who are not coping.

17/08/2011   1 Comment

Lessons from the Wimbledon Fortnight

One of the perks of living in London is the opportunity to attend world-class events.  Recently I was lucky enough to be at Wimbledon’s Center Court for the final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.  Djokovic won in 4 sets, and he was the deserving winner.  He simply played better tennis on the day.

Athletes can be a tremendous inspiration; providing lessons in how to be at the top of their game and remaining confident, yet also maintaining humility.  Rafael Nadal summed it up so beautifully in his speech following his defeat by Djokovic.  He said:

“First I would like to congratulate Novak and his team for his victory today and his amazing season.  It wasn’t possible [for me] today in this final. I tried my best as always. Today one player played better than me.  I will try another time next year.”

Here’s what I like about what he captured in those short sentences:

  1. Djokovich won, Nadal lost and Nadal can still be happy for Djokovich and what he accomplished.
  2. He acknowledged that he was beaten by the better player on the day.  He says that he played his best, and he understands that on that particular day, his best wasn’t good enough to win.
  3. That he will leave the court with an increased commitment and motivation to learn from his loss; to look at what he could have done differently; and to refine his game and improve so that July 2012 might see a different result!

Apparently one of the things players see before heading on to Center Court is the classic Rudyard Kipling poem If

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same

This is such an important lesson to instill in our children.  The ability to win with grace and humility and the ability to lose in the same way.  Defeat can lead to (at least) two outcomes: it can shut you down so you no longer want to try; or, you see it as a source of inspiration.  Defeat can be the opportunity to take stock with what you have achieved, re-clarify and re-commit to your goals and take some time to refine your skills.

Yesterday’s match demonstrated that, for Nadal, doing your best is not the same as (in that particular match) being the best.  While doing your best might not result in a first or second place finish, it will always provide an opportunity to assess your strengths and weaknesses and see them both as things to learn from and improve upon.

29/07/2011   No Comments

Wimbledon Fortnight – it’s all fun and games for our children!

Have you ever had the experience where your child says they are bored and there is nothing to do? Or indeed the situation where a simple family game of cards dissolves into hysteria and tantrums if your child does not win? Simply playing sport or other games can sometimes be fraught with emotion for both parent and child. Encouraging simple creative play from an early age can often be a minefield as parents are bombarded with a n overwhelming array of educational toys – largely electronic, with an amazing range of batteries and buttons. The marketing gurus cleverly stamp a package as “Award Winning Toy” encouraging parents to buy with the implication they will have as a result an “award winning child”. This preconditioning starts early and moves with the development of your child into the more sophisticated area of Nintendo Ds; Playstations and Xbox’s. Electronic toys are largely about children executing tasks and play therefore becomes based on performance and not imagination. The manufacturers may just as well put a health warning on the box saying” creativity and imagination not included in this package!”

Another on going problem for many parents is that as children develop in age, there can be a temptation to fill children’s free time with many organised activities and entertainment often designed to add to their list of accomplishments. Indeed we do live in a culture of organised play, as the pressure to maximize every moment is enormous, especially as time together between parent and child may be compromised. The result can often be children who, when left to their own devices, may not know what to do. We don’t want fun to be seen by our children as commercialised and yet so often this can be the case .

The solutions to the above are so simple as to be overlooked:

  • For the younger children, go back to the old fashioned games of “Simon says”, ‘musical bumps’ and “I spy” to encourage not only physical movement but listening skills and language  processing. Action rhymes such as “Row, row, row the boat” soon become children’s’ favourites and enable them to focus on words and actions and learn about processing two part instructions.
  • For the older child, focus on engaging them in adult activities such as cooking; cleaning; ironing, washing the car as well as playing games. Depending on age and stage of development they may not be able to concentrate for long, but often you find these activities actually inspire creative play and the added benefit to you is you encourage self reliance early on!

In terms of playing competitive games and sports, many life skills are required in order to be successful and enjoy taking part. We need to teach and train our children to:

  • Follow rules and instructions
  • Use self control
  • Handle their feelings
  • Consider other people’s feelings
  • Look for solutions and develop strategies for dealing with problems

Set up opportunities to practice the above skills by playing sport and other games. (This also provides opportunities for positive time with your children which contributes to a positive relationship with them, improves their motivation to please and increases their self-esteem.)

  1. Before the game starts ask your child what the rules are or what they must do in detail.
  2. Ask them or suggest to them what feelings they might have if they win or if they lose.
  3. What might they feel like doing when they win/lose? What behaviour is required if they win or if they lose?
  4. Empathise that they might prefer to skip this conversation and get on with the game.
  5. During the game descriptively praise the behaviour you want to encourage – choose from: self-control, taking turns, stopping when a physical game gets too rough, not hurting physically or verbally, not complaining or storming off, kindness, consideration, tolerance especially re younger siblings, helpfulness, following instructions/rules and anything else that occurs to you.
  6. 6. Conspicuously model the desired behaviour (i.e. talk about what you’re doing) e.g. “Oh no I’ve picked up a bad card but I’m not going to make a fuss and I’m going to carry on playing the game. Maybe I’ll get good cards next time.” Or “Oops that wasn’t a good shot. I’m going to practice my goal shooting so I’ll get better at it.”
  7. Acknowledge that it’s hard when the game isn’t going your child’s way or he’s not playing skillfully. (e.g. can’t get the ball in the basketball hoop). “It can be hard to keep going when it doesn’t come easily at first. It takes self discipline.”

And finally when your child returns home from their cricket or rounders match resist the temptation to ask “Did you win?” replacing it first with “Did you enjoy yourself? And then “did you play your best?” or “did you manage to keep your eye on the ball the way you’ve been practicing” or “Did the coach have any good tips?”


01/07/2011   No Comments

Rituals

Some of you will have recently celebrated Easter with all its attendant rituals. Whether you are Christian or religious or not there are always rituals surrounding holidays and special occasions. At Easter time there are eggs, of a chocolate variety or otherwise, and whether or not the significance of the egg matters many families will have engaged in Easter egg hunts. Many of you will spend such holidays with families or go back to the same place year in, year out. We have always gone to my husband’s family home in Dorset for Easter and when the children were little we started the ritual of Easter egg hunts which involved the children following clues to find their treasure –we like to make them work for their sugar fixes! As they got older this became quite a burden for the adults as we had to devise bigger and better clues and not always hide the eggs in the same place. One year we resorted to our scanty knowledge of the foreign languages the children were learning at school. My grown up children are now involved in devising the clues for the younger ones thank goodness. However there was no suggestion that we could abandon this practice because that was what we’d always done. Any suggested variation in this or other routines is always met with howls of protest.

When Prince William married Katherine Middleton their very public wedding which was watched by so many around the world brought to mind another set of practices. The customs and ceremonies around marriage will of course vary in different cultures but all cultures will have some established conventions. The bride often wears white, there is usually a bouquet of flowers, an exchange or giving of one ring and an exchange of vows. These kinds of rituals are shared by whole cultures. But within families there are often rituals which are uniquely their own, routine ways of doing things around mealtimes or bedtimes or travel, idiosyncratic phrases or family sayings or how birthdays are celebrated for instance. Maybe Dad always sits in his chair; Mum always drives; when Dad comes home the kids always race to greet him at the door; the bedtime routine is bath, stories, cuddles and talk, lights out; everyone sings on long car journeys; the Sunday morning ritual is breakfast in Mum and Dads bed with the newspapers etc, etc.  I always think of my grandfather when I use phrases that he used such as waking my sons in the morning with ‘How’s my bonny boy?’ –hardly unique but I can hear his voice when I say it. He also called me tuppence because I was number two in the family and now my brother calls his second daughter tuppence which I love.

Some practices will be more important than others. My children have long said about certain family practices like dressing the Christmas tree that they will always do things like this with their children. Clearly rituals and routines are loved because of their familiarity and we know that children flourish on routine. I work in a centre for troubled adolescents and they are thriving on a recent increase in structure. They know where they stand and what is expected of them. Most children prosper when there are clear expectations upheld with certainty and consistency. Familiar rituals can provide comfort when things are upsetting.

Rituals are specific to certain communities or families so when we participate in those little rites we show we belong to that community. That sense of belonging is very important to our happiness. Family traditions can also help pass on specific values to your children. In my family when we celebrate a birthday we sing happy birthday and then have the usual 3 cheers but then we also say ‘and one for the umpire’ which is met with a boo! Not sure that’s a value I really meant to pass on to my kids.

Ritualising certain practices will help them become habits. So it’s a good idea to brush your teeth at the same time and in the same place every day. Likewise parents who want to remember to praise their children more find it helps to do it at a set time each day such as mealtimes or bedtimes. It can be part of the bedtime routine to praise your child and ask them to think of things that they are proud of or good things that happened that day. Some families have praise books which they write in each evening. My husband and I write down one thing we want to appreciate the other for every night and have found it creates a wonderful bond and an atmosphere of trust and feeling cherished between us.

You will probably already have your some of own rituals but we recommend you develop further family rituals to create a sense of togetherness and the feeling of comfort and security that certainty brings and to get into good habits. You might like to consider the following:

  • Games you play (we have had hilarious evenings playing charades)
  • Special hugs
  • Code words or signals
  • Morning routines (pleasant ones!)
  • Making scrapbooks
  • Baking
  • Friday Family Fun night with movies and popcorn (my bother’s family has a dress theme)
  • Cooking together
  • Conversations at mealtimes can be started with topic suggestions ( a good aid is the game called Table Topics)

Enjoy!

15/05/2011   No Comments

Homework: Reduce your child’s stress levels without compromising their grades

By The Study Gurus.

The Race To Nowhere film showed us that an increasingly significant number of high school students are feeling an unhealthy amount of pressure when it comes to school and their future. In some cases it’s so extreme that it’s not unheard of for 16 year olds to be popping pills to sacrifice sleep for more study.

Clearly, something’s out of kilter.

Perhaps you’re concerned your child is feeling a lot of pressure to get into the right university? Perhaps they’re at risk of burning out before they even get there?

Well here’s the question; what is it you want your child to value?
Success for the sake of success? Or happiness and career satisfaction?
If your answer is the former, then by all means do everything necessary to get your child into the ‘best’ school possible. But if it’s the latter, then what are you so worried about? To achieve career satisfaction and happiness your child needs to have confidence in themselves and the right attitude, not necessarily an Oxford education.
The children who enjoy learning, have a good work ethic and a likeable personality are guaranteed to go far. And YOU can instil these characteristics into your child quite easily all on your own.

What are you talking about at the dinner table?
Do you spend more time over dinner obsessing over what school or university your child is going to get into, or more time having erudite conversation about current events? More time discussing what grades your child needs to get in their exams, or what they learnt today at school?
No wonder our kids are crumbling under pressure… all we talk about is grades, grades, grades!
But grades are important right? Of course – they can have a huge influence on a child’s life after school. But we are saying that we need to emphasise both grades and the importance of learning and actually enjoying it.
The reason being, a student who enjoys learning will do well at school for all the right reasons – because they want to, because they’re curious, because they’re motivated.

Where should you start?
A technique we like to use to spark an interest in learning in our students is to steer conversation away from solely facts and equations, and more towards the real world context behind their subjects wherever appropriate.
For example, if they’re reading a book for their English class, instead of just talking about what’s going to be in the exam, we ask questions like, what’s it about? What do you think the author was trying to say with the story? Are they enjoying it? Yes? No? Why not? What would they rather read?
Or with their maths and science subjects, we try and talk about how these are applied in real life. What does E = mc2 actually mean? Who figured it out? How did it change what we know about the world?
Open and topical questions like these that spark an interesting conversation will make your child appreciate their school subjects in a way that isn’t necessarily attached to school. They’ll be more interested in the content of their subjects, rather than totally consumed by grades.

Help your child find their magic study formula
Every student will have their own unique way of studying most effectively. This is why your child needs to figure out their study formula. This is their personal formula for academic success. It’s the academic equivalent of a personally designed training regime for a top athlete.
Once your child knows what their study formula is, they will understand exactly what they need to do to get the most out of any study session. They won’t have the stress of not knowing how to approach study, and they’ll save time by avoiding study techniques that don’t work for them.
There are a number of facets involved in understanding what your study formula is. Questions you and your child need to start thinking about might be:
• What sorts of techniques help them remember stuff well?
• What’s their predominant Learning Style?
• Do they like writing long notes, or bullet-pointed short lines?
• Do they like drawing diagrams?
• Do they like watching videos?
• Do they learn best by actually doing things?
• Do they study best in the morning or at night?
• Do they study best with long periods or short bursts of study?
The list goes on…
Figuring out your study formula is a game of trial and error. It should be thought of as a constant work in progress. But very quickly it will enable your child to study efficiently and effectively, and will be something that will serve them well all throughout their life.

If you have a child who’s motivated and who wants to succeed, you should be celebrating – not stressing.
Sure they’re going to be nervous when it comes to exams and university acceptance letters – that’s not a bad thing. But if your child has a good work ethic and enjoys learning they are 100% guaranteed to make a success of themselves.
It would be impossible not to.

The Study Gurus are Clare McIlwraith and Chris Whittington. Their aim is to show parents how they can help their children reach their academic potential. They’re sharing their years of studying and tutoring experience at www.thestudygurus.com.

31/03/2011   No Comments

The Race to Nowhere or the Path to Somewhere?

The Path to Somewhere

The Parent Practice is delighted with the response of our two screenings of “Race to Nowhere” earlier this month. If you attended a screening, we hope you enjoyed it.  If you weren’t there, we thought you might like to hear how the screenings went!

If you’re unfamiliar with “Race to Nowhere”, it is an American documentary that explores the pressures today’s children are under to succeed.  While the film is American in content, the themes are absolutely universal, and as we saw from the speed with which the tickets sold, it seems the concerns are shared by many parents in the UK.

While some children are able to thrive with pressure placed upon them by schools and extracurricular activities, there are also many that aren’t able to deal as well.  This film tells their stories.  It raises so many questions: the benefits of standardised testing and early years’ homework, getting into the ‘best’ school versus a school where that particular child may be better able to flourish, and redefining success.

We had initially planned on holding only one screening at Channel 4, and were bowled over by the overwhelming response which had that screening sell out within hours – and almost crash our website!  The waitlist quickly grew, so we decided to host a second screening at the Clapham Picture House.  Overall, the film screened to over 150 people. Both screenings were followed by a 30 minutes panel discussion which was led by Elaine Halligan of The Parent Practice, and included Bonnie Harris M.S. Ed, the author of the series of parenting books including What To Do When Kids Push Your Buttons; Heather Hanbury, Headteacher at Wimbledon High School; Charles Bonas, Educational Consultant & Commentator; Sue Kumleben, Facilitator with the Parent Practice, Holli Rubin (Psychotherapist), and Philippa Jackson (Headteacher of Hollymount School).

From the panel discussion, and conversations afterwards, it was apparent that all the parents attending have a clear awareness of the challenges and pressures their children face within today’s education system. There is a collective sense of helplessness – many parents feel they are on a treadmill, and that if they decide to step off, they have in some way failed their children, despite knowing instinctively it may be the best thing for them!

Although our audience was just a small sample of parents, it was clear to us that that there is a considerable increase in parents’ concerns about how their children are coping at school. At the same time, many parents don’t believe they possess the appropriate knowledge, confidence or courage to support their children through school, and make the most appropriate choices for them.

If anyone is interested in hosting their own screening of the film we are happy to support you in doing so.  It looks like there will be 2 or 3 more screenings in the London area this spring/summer.

We feel really thrilled to have brought this film to London and look forward to seeing what impact it will have for parents and educators alike.   Some changes have already started to happen!  A few days after the first screening, Wimbledon High School’s Headteacher blogged that:

We should beware of ‘over-scheduling’ children’s lives: students need time just to ‘be’, to play, to ‘hang out’ – it’s something we believe in strongly at WHS. Within our new timetable, which I am announcing soon as part of the outcome of the curriculum review, there will be more time at lunchtime to do just that. I want our students to enjoy extra-curricular clubs for their own sake, not in order, as they get older, to tick boxes on a UCAS (university entrance) form. I do think that busy teenagers are often the happiest. Those with interests and hobbies will gain confidence which will help them academically as much as socially. But those interests have to come from the girls themselves – we can’t and shouldn’t push them.    

True to our Parent Practice ethos, we have decided to be part of the solution as well, and to focus our minds and resources on creating a response for parents. We are in the process of developing a workshop, which has a working title of ‘The Path To Somewhere’. This workshop will look at how we can re-define success, and how we can empower our children with appropriate life-skills so they can thrive within whichever school environment best suits them.

So, stay tuned … it looks like something exciting may be starting to happen, and we’re proud to be part of it!  And in the meantime, we’ll let you know when ‘Path to Somewhere’ is ready to launch!

If you’re curious to know more about the film, please take a look at www.racetonowhere.com.

22/03/2011   No Comments

Valentine’s Day – are your children in love?

It is Valentine’s day and of course our thoughts turn to love – but what if the love we’re pondering is our children’s love …and it’s not ourselves that are the object of their affection but some spotty youth! When our children fall in love what’s the parent’s role, or do we even have one? Have we been totally eclipsed, put out to pasture, past our use-by date? Ok, all clichés to one side, I suppose it depends when your child is smitten with Eros’s arrow. If your ‘child’ is of an age that you think is too young for love, and for fathers of daughters this may be any age up to about 30, then what? When is too young for love and what does love mean at different ages? A 7 year old child may declare themselves to be in love or to have a girlfriend and when questioned this turns out to mean that they are prepared to swap sandwiches at lunchtime . A ten year old may be very keen on a member of the opposite sex and this manifests itself by them calling the object of their affection names and tweaking their hair. By 13 your child may have reached such heights of sophistication that they are now prepared to acknowledge that there is a point to girls/boys and they may really fancy one, but would rather die than admit it to the other. Or you may find that the child who has come over for a ‘playdate’ is making you question what sort of play they had in mind! If you think your child is too young for an exclusive relationship then tell them so without making them wrong or making fun of them and encourage them to be friends with lots of people.

We might think the idea of our children being in love is cute until we see them holding hands or sneaking a kiss and then we decide we need to have some boundaries! Where each parent draws a boundary will depend on their own value system and upbringing and it is worth discussing the rules with them when the other young person is not present. I remember being mortified by my grandfather insisting that my bedroom door had to be kept open when my boyfriend came over. In a household of 7 people there was nowhere else but my room to go for any peace and quiet. Some of the guidelines they may need are about how to behave with integrity and respect towards the opposite sex.

And what if said spotty youth seems totally unsuitable? Just as we can’t choose our children’s friends we certainly can’t choose their boyfriends and girlfriends and we risk alienating them if we try. Assuming we’re talking about a teenager now they are in the process of working out their identity and choosing their friends is an important part of that. You can and should have rules about how they conduct themselves in your house but you can’t dictate who they decide to give their affections to. Trust that the values you’ve been passing on to them since they were small have been taken on board. You may not share their taste and you may question their judgment but a parent’s role at this point is a more backseat one. There is no doubt that the first boyfriend/girlfriend can make a parent question their own relationship with their child. They have moved on to the next phase of their lives –friendships have taken on a different meaning and a parent may feel a bit usurped. It’s important not to take this as a rejection –they still need you.

And what of unrequited love or some other kind of hurt? What do you do when your precious child has been dumped by text message or on facebook?  A common phenomenon in these  days of social networking. Just as when they were being teased as a small child your first instinct may be to rush in and try to sort things out for them but we need to put the brakes on and work out how to support them more subtly. They need us above all to be there for them, to listen and to comfort. They do not need to be told there are plenty of other fish in the sea and how you didn’t like him anyway or how he could do better than that girl. Try to remember what it feels like to be hurt in love – but don’t tell them about all your experiences –just empathise. They will need to know that they are worthwhile but not by telling them that there’s nothing wrong with them (apart from their taste in girls/boys) and the only way they will believe any words of encouragement from a parent at this point is if those words are completely believable –that means sincere and descriptive.

15/02/2011   No Comments

Bedtime Battles?

Do you as a parent have the experience of getting your children into bed and then keeping them there throughout the night as a regular waking nightmare! For many parents preventing their children from waking up and disturbing their own sleep or the sleep of siblings can be a huge problem…..when your kids are teens then this ceases to be a problem as they will then struggle to get out of bed. Such is the developmental pattern of behaviour – life is cruel!

Children and parents need their sleep and we also need to have some time to ourselves in the evening if we are to ensure we are not functioning purely as a C.R.U….. a child rearing unit with no time to nurture adult relationships.

Why do parents experience the issue with bed hopping and bedtime battles? The answer often lies with us, as we as parents can often be so inconsistent that inadvertently our children end up training us to reward the behaviour we don’t want e.g. by  allowing them into our bed in the middle of the night. There of course may be other practical issues such as needing the toilet; being scared of the dark; finding it hard to settle in the evening and putting  themselves to sleep.

The solutions are plentiful:

  • Decide with your partner or if a single parent with anyone who is regularly involved with putting the kids to bed, what your values are around bedtime; create rules and ensure there are meaningful rewards and consequences attached
  • Establish your evening routine so that it is conducive to the kids winding down; sitting in bed for stories; playing a quiet game after bath; PJ’s and teeth brushing routine. Make the whole routine positive using masses of descriptive praise and no criticising; nagging or shouting. Try not to encourage rough and tumble at this time of day as this can make some children more excitable
  • Alternate which parent puts the children to bed, otherwise they become dependent on one parent and start calling the shots!
  • Ensure your bedtime rules are as detailed as possible – “Going to bed nicely” is too general. Ask the question what does this look like and make it detailed. Each of these below amounts to a rule around bedtime:
    • Have 2 stories
    • Do a wee if need to
    • Get into your own bed
    • Kiss mummy and /or Daddy goodnight
    • Say everything you need to say…have your bedtime chat and may need a time limit for this
    • Turn out the light and say “ goodnight, see you in the morning”
    • Don’t stay in the room till your child falls asleep, or he will not be able to sleep without your presence and inadvertently you have created a dependency.
    • If your child is scared, don’t tell her not to be afraid or that she’s too big to be worrying about monsters and the like. Really listen to her feelings and empathise….and try and help her understand what she is feeling. “It can be scary if you wake up in the night and everyone else is asleep. Maybe you feel lonely”. Once our children feel that we are listening and understand they are much more able/willing to listen to solutions.
    • A great Health Visitor friend of mine recommends introducing your child to an anchor which they can reach out and use if indeed they are scared of monsters in the dark. Arm them with an empty plastic pump spray bottle armed with imaginary “anti – monster juice” so they can reach out in the middle of the night and zap the monster away.
    • Discuss with your children strategies they can use if indeed they wake during the night to help them get back to sleep. Have reward stickers that build up around the head board of the bed or on a sticker chart so she can earn rewards for each stage of the “going to bed” proceedings. Gives her the message she is being successful and is capable
    • The sleep fairy is also a lovely idea….she fills during the day a favourite teddy bear with all the sleep needed to ensure the child has the tools to sleep at night. If progress has been made and he only got out of bed twice compared to 6 times the previous night the sleep fairy will visit in the night and leave a small note or token of how happy she is the child is making progress and getting into better bedtime habits. This token can be anything that tickles you child from a special stone; a pretty flower; a piece of lego; a conker? You are the experts in your children and what motivates them but the sleep fairy does not spend any money and uses her creativity and imagination to reward.
    • In the early days of training your child into better bed time habits, it is much better to go back into the room and praise them, rather than wait till you are downstairs cooking supper and they call you back or come out of their rooms. We always recommend that in order to create a new habit you have to be there as the trainer. This may mean sitting outside the child’s bedroom reading a paper or book for 20 minutes or so, but it means you are far less resentful then having to leave the kitchen and head back upstairs  and have your buttons pressed
    • Training into new habits takes time…don’t expect perfection after just a few nights and do praise for any progress made
    • Never use bed as a punishment/consequence
    • Remember to recharge your own batteries- think of yourself as a chequeing account – once overdrawn it is not easy to be an effective parent.

If you like this blog and want to see more examples of Descriptive Praise for bedtimes, take a look at our Bedtime Battle publication which you can download from the website:

http://www.theparentpractice.com/publications-download/36-avoiding-bedtime-battles.html

Here’s to sweet dreams and quality sleep.

09/02/2011   No Comments

What every child wants – presents or your presence?

As the recycling trucks take away the last bags of ripped wrapping paper and broken up boxes, homes are full of new toys and games. In the playgrounds, children are comparing notes about who got what, and, at home, they are busy determining which are destined to become much loved favourites and which will be gathering dust on the shelf.

After all the recent focus on presents, it’s interesting to read about some research from Cardiff University which concluded that 75% of 11-12 year olds rated spending time with their family, above spending time with friends or time alone. When asked what they enjoyed doing with their family, the children didn’t mention playing games or being taken shopping or on day-trips or outings. They talked about “routine” and “ordinariness” and about the feeling of “having someone around”. What the children seem to value is a time to rest and relax, with a sense of control and security, which they get from being WITH us, rather than being with friends, or indeed from having the latest gizmos, gadgets and games.

In our classes, we talk about making sure you spend some “Special Time” with each child at some point during the week.  It needs only be 5-10 minutes, and it can take place at any time of the day and anywhere. The point that makes it “Special” is that is guaranteed and regular time with you – uninterrupted by anything or anyone. There are many benefits, but the beauty is the simplicity. You don’t have to do anything with them, just be with them. If there is a particular conversation or an activity, it’s at their urging and under their direction.

But I was still not sure I’m that great company for my children, until I asked my eldest (aged 10 years) what was good about the recent holidays, and the answer was “just being at home with you”. It surprised me, in the lovely way it does when you realise they sometimes know more and better than we do….. I asked what was so good about “just being at home” because personally “just being at home” can drive me mad….. And the response of “I like knowing you are here, and knowing where everything is and what is going to happen because I feel safe” very much confirmed the Cardiff University research.

Now, I don’t think my child feels particularly unsafe anywhere else. There are no signs to cause me any concern in this area. But I had not thought about it like this before. The world outside the front door really can be pretty big and scary, even when you’ve reached double digits, and I realise now I hugely underestimate the comfort and pleasure our home and my presence in it gives my children.  I don’t always need to add anything particular – although being actively engaged with your child is always going to be something you wish you did more of.  Sometimes I just have to be me and be here.

17/01/2011   No Comments